Stanford's Luck Mixing Passes and Classes

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STANFORD, Calif. - The should-have-been No. 1 pick of last spring’s NFL draft, the quarterback who stayed to finish things as student and athlete, was asked now that Stanford has started its academic year, what it was like again mixing classes and passes.

“I love not having school,’’ said Andrew Luck, to which a journalist blurted, “You never had to take a class again.’’ When the laughter subsided, Luck, said, “I guess that’s true. The joke’s on me, right?’’

Luck, indeed, has a sense of humor. And a sense of place. He knows how good he is. He knows the obligations of a Heisman Trophy front-runner. If someone other than the regular coterie of writers asks a question which he’s heard before – mainly, why did he remain in college? - Luck never acts annoyed.

“It’s their first opportunity,’’ said Luck of a media waif. “For me, it’s so old, eight, nine months ago, but I understand. They have the right to ask the question.’’

How can you not like this kid? Eighty-five passes this season, 786 yards, eight touchdowns. One interception – on a tipped ball. How can you not like this kid? As patient as Job, with a better arm. Not a shred of arrogance.

Luck and Stanford face a mediocre UCLA team Saturday after a bye. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News maybe 10 days ago contended in print Stanford on its schedule had consecutive byes. Ooh.

Luck, well-trained, in the past by Jim Harbaugh, now by Harbaugh’s first-year successor, David Shaw, would never dismiss an opponent so heartlessly, even though there’s a modicum of truth to the observation. UCLA hardly is in Stanford’s class any longer.

“Their secondary,’’ Luck said of UCLA in a media session Tuesday, “is athletic and fast.’’ Perhaps, but it was pummeled by Texas a week and a half ago.

Luck returns after a weekend of doing what the rest of us do almost every weekend, catching games on television. “I’m sort of sick of watching football,’’ said Luck. “I was glued to the couch for 10 hours.’’

Concentrating on his position?

“It’s less fun to watch college football on TV,’’ he said, “because you’re so used to watching what you do on film or tape. Some of the teams, we watched the quarterback. The offensive line, all they do is watch the offensive line, yell, ‘Great step by the right tackle.’ Stuff like that. But watching West Virginia, I was interested. That was different.’’

That’s because his father, the one-time NFL quarterback and exec, Oliver Luck, is the West Virginia athletic director. Even then, Andrew Luck got off his bottom to attend a Stanford women’s soccer game while the West Virginia-LSU game still was on the tube.

His dad is one of the reasons Andrew Luck is so well-grounded, so comprehending of what the sporting world can be. Also one of the reasons Luck is so gifted both as player and a student. 

He’s majoring in architecture. “I’m taking three classes, trying not to overload (because of football). Greek art, architecture since 1900 and then a class in urban sustainability. I still want to focus on football as much as I can, so that’s not too bad.’’

Naturally someone had to toss out, “No ballroom dancing?’’ - a reference to the class at USC through which another QB, Matt Leinart, fulfilled his last requirement for graduation.

“No ballroom dancing,’’ said Luck, without a bit of sarcasm. “I’m too embarrassed to try dancing.’’

Stanford is 3-0 this year, ranked No. 4 in the USA Today poll, No. 6 in the Associated Press poll. No dancing around that. But there’s always room for advancement, right? Shaw said he would give the team only a B-minus on plays in the red zone.

And how does Luck grade the performance? “B-minus,’’ he said. “I always agree with my coach.’’

Luck admits he is better than last season, when he was brilliant. “I think I’ve improved a lot,’’ was his assessment. “I definitely feel I have more mastery of the offense. Obviously, I have a lot more to learn, but I feel like I’ve improved.’’

One step back, two steps forward? Depends on what play is called. But Monday, Shaw had Luck and backup Brett Nottingham practicing the routines as if it were the first day of practice.

“The fundamentals,’’ said Luck. “Dropping back, cleaning up some of the mistakes.’’

There’s no mistaking Luck’s talent or poise. “Like you’ve got your pants down on defense,’’  Mike Riley, the Oregon State coach said in the summer to the Los Angeles Times about Luck’s versatility. "He looks out there, sees what's going on and always knows what to do with the football."

He knows what to do without the football, too. No joke.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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